Night air ops in San Diego County?

Some politicians still believe that if there had been another hour or two of daylight left when the 2003 Cedar Fire started, which burned 273,000 acres in San Diego county, it could have been stopped with a few bucket drops from the medium helicopter that was in the area. The truth is, that fire was pushed by very strong Santa Ana winds and it was off to the races in minutes. No aircraft could have stopped that fire in those conditions. No aircraft.

Air drops are worthless if there are no ground forces nearby to take advantage of them and put in hose lays or hand line. When the Cedar fire started it was much too dangerous for ground forces to directly attack the fire under the extreme conditions created by the strong winds, the vegetation, and the terrain. And if the wind is blowing the water or retardant sideways, it’s a waste of time and money, as well as being dangerous for the pilots.

But these facts have not stopped the San Diego County Board of Supervisors from pushing for night flying capability for firefighting aircraft. Supervisor Pam Slater-Price called night flying by water-dropping aircraft

“…a must-have” for the county. “We can’t afford to have out-of-date bureaucratic rules compromise public safety,” Slater-Price said. “I’m tired of excuses as to why it can’t be done.”

The Board of Supervisors is sending a letter to the State of California and the U.S. Forest Service asking them to begin negotiating rules that will allow for nighttime aerial firefighting in their jurisdictions.

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